Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain

18th - 22nd Feb 2010

Trip Report by Julian Sykes

Thursday Feb 18th :- I met the group (David, Marilyn, Freda, Jane & Eve) at Madrid Airport around lunch time and set off north and west immediately. Just outside Madrid near El Pardo we saw a 2 Black Vultures circling over the A2 motorway, what an excellent start to the short break. The journey was punctuated with many more raptors such as Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Kestrel but also a Sparrowhawk, which zipped across the road. A little further north David found our first White Storks and it was quite surprising to find some already on their nests. David also saw a Southern Grey Shrike as we headed past Benavente with the more common birds including Spotless Starling, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and House Sparrow. Eventually we reached the CTR Veniata – our excellent accommodation for the duration of our stay, quickly got checked in, freshened up and reconvened at the minibus, in anticipation of our first chance of seeing a Wolf. Antonio (the CTR Veniata’s gracious host) had given me the up-to-date information on Iberian Wolf sightings and one had been seen that morning at a carcass near Ferreras de Arriba. So we headed there and arrived to find quite a large group of observers but sadly no sightings that evening, however we persevered until dusk but without any luck. Hopefully tomorrow would bring better fortune. We returned to the hotel with plenty of time before the evening meal, which we all enjoyed along with a couple of glasses of wine before heading to bed and an early night after a long day’s travelling.

Friday Feb 19th :- We all gathered at 7am for a quick cup of tea or coffee before heading out into the breaking dawn. It was very cold but the minibus soon warmed up as we travelled again through to the watchpoint near Ferreras de Arriba. We got there just as the light was getting good enough to see and found another (Dutch) group already there but having seen nothing as yet. We stayed there watching the area around the carcass for a couple of hours but with no luck and the general consensus was that probably the dead animal was actually too frozen to be of any use. However while we were there we did find a few Red Deer, plus we saw several small groups of Siskins fly past and got brief views of a Goldcrest, Firecrest, Crested, Coal & Blue Tits. A few Ravens investigated the carcass but didn’t continue to feed maybe justifying our assumptions on why there were no wolves there either. So we returned to CTR Veniata seeing a few Jays, Blackbirds and Chaffinches along the route. After breakfast I decided we should have a good walk around the village and out on to the sierra looking for both birds and evidence of wolf activity. This was most enjoyable as the sun warmed our faces despite the wind still having a definite chill to it. Around San Pedro we did very well getting fabulous views of lots of local birds such as Red Kites, Ravens, Crossbills, Short toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Firecrest, Crested, Great & Blue Tits, a male Cirl Bunting, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Greenfinch and Chaffinches. We then walked out of the hamlet and onto the Sierra de Culebra where we followed a track, which skirted a pine forest. Along here we eventually found wolf-prints in the fresh mud, being able to make out their large size, triangular hind pad and visible claw marks. Along the track we found several Coal Tits and Dave got more good views of Crested Tit, a Dartford Warbler scolded us from the heather and bramble but failed to show itself, and a large flock of 30+ Ravens made an impressive sight. At lunchtime we returned to the hotel finding our first Long tailed Tits of the break along with another Great Spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Nuthatches. We then enjoyed a fabulous lunch carefully prepared by our wonderful host Antonio, which was then followed by a brief siesta to enable everyone to re-charge their batteries. Later that afternoon we set off, again heading out towards Ferreras de Arriba stopping just beyond Boya to look at a Southern Grey Shrike sat on a roadside pine. We then drove around the Ferreras area looking for birds but it was very disappointing as we only saw a couple more shrikes and the usual Ravens, Red Kites, Carrion Crows and Spotless Starlings. So we headed for the watchpoint and set-up overlooking the sierra, like we had done that morning. It was very cold in the teeth of the wind and our resolve was tested to the full, however we were eventually rewarded with excellent views of a large male Wild Boar. Also here during our stay we again saw a few Red Deer, Siskins and a mixed flock of tits. Just before dusk we set off back to the hotel, ready for our evening meal and a glass of wine.

Saturday Feb 20th :- A slightly later start today as we were going to the nearby watchpoint of Pistas de Linares, but when we got there it was shrouded in mist. Although this cam and went over the next hour and a half and we did manage to get some good views of Red Deer but not much else. It was again cold day and quite grey but it did improve during the course of the day, which was most welcome. After breakfast we headed off south towards the Portuguese border seeing en-route plenty of Southern Grey Shrikes, Red Kites and Common Buzzards. Our first stop was at the incredibly scenic iron bridge over the Embalse de Castro but it was unusually quiet seeing nothing at all of note. In fact it had been commented on, how little bird life there was around and how we really had to work for any kind of success. So we continued on to Fariza seeing a few White Storks (on nests), Lapwing, Kestrel and lots of Chaffinches. Soon enough we got to Fariza and headed out to the raptor watchpoint at the Ermita de Nuestra Senora, which thankfully provided a couple of our target species. Immediately after getting out of the minibus I found a small ‘kettle’ of Griffon Vultures, which were unbelievably the first of this short break. This was then followed by an adult Golden Eagle, which had joined the group of vultures; however it broke off and started to ‘sky-dive display’, which was brilliant. Eventually it drifted off  so we got our gear together and walked down to towards the watchpoint that overlooks the mighty Rio Duero and over to Portugal. On the way we got some incredibly close looks at Griffon Vultures as they drifted along the steep river valley below where we were. This was then followed by finding the adult Golden Eagle again, which was then joined by another adult Golden Eagle and really enjoyed their interaction through the telescope. Sadly we couldn’t dwell here long as the call of nature dictated we headed for the nearby Portuguese town of Miranda do Duero. After a very welcome coffee stop and comfort break we continued along the river, which forms the Arribes del Duero Natural Park. At Aldeia Nova we dropped down to the river seeing Woodlarks and a Black Redstart, stopping at yet another church with a watchpoint. Here we had our picnic lunch followed by an investigation of the local area. Jane & Eve did really well finding another adult Golden Eagle, which obviously had a close eyrie as it disappeared into one of the holes in the steep cliffs. Dave and I found a migrating House Martin and other birds included more Griffon Vultures, Red Kites and Common Buzzard. It was now mid-afternoon and time to make our way back to San Pedro slowly in the hope of finding some Azure winged Magpies. It wasn’t to be but we were compensated with a few Cirl Buntings, and I got a very brief view of a Rock Bunting. Back at the hotel we had some time to relax but the long day had taken its toll with only Dave & I heading out to the Pistas de Linares viewpoint. It was most pleasant evening we had had so far, with us remaining to have some kind of feeling in our fingers and toes!. A group of Spanish observers had already gathered and they showed us a nice group of 12 (mature) stag Red Deer, but there were even more scattered across the sierra. I then found a sub-adult Wild Boar then Dave found a second similar aged individual. Something then happened and these two started to run into the deep heather and I then found another 5 Wild Boar (2 full adults and 3 young) also running hard into the high undergrowth. We lost these for a time but got brief views later as they all crossed the main track that dissects this area. Next we got very good views of a Peregrine Falcon that flew across in front of us and I found a couple of Roe Deer feeding close to where we were standing. It was starting to get dark when I picked up a group of 6 Red Deer stags running from the extreme right hand side of our viewing area and just kept going. I knew there was something amiss so scanned back and couldn’t believe my luck as 2 Iberian Wolves came into view chasing the deer. Instinctively I grabbed Dave and handed him the telescope and he managed to track them in the failing light actually confirming a third animal. I got the telescope back just before they disappeared but saw them clearly against the pale background – brilliant. Once they were lost to sight we packed up with smiles on our faces and headed back to the CTR Veniata for a very welcome glass of wine and yet another excellent meal prepared by Antonio.

Sunday Feb 21st :- I awoke to the news that it had snowed in the night but I wasn’t prepared for just how much, but we headed out anyway to Pistas de Linares. The minibus slid a little but we made the viewpoint without much fuss but the snow continued to fall in flurries during our two hours there. It was quiet apart from the usual Red Deer plus David & Marilyn saw a Dartford Warbler. It was time for breakfast so we tried to leave in the minibus but all that happened is that the back end slid towards the ditch!!. It was getting dangerously close despite trying everything so I made the decision to push it away from the edge and try again, which was a smart move. Once back on the track we were able to go but the two kilometre journey was interesting as I kept the vehicle going through the now thick snow. Thankfully we reached the road and that was much better and we got back to the hotel without any more problems. After breakfast we set off for the Villafafila area and the initial roads were still a little covered in snow, so I took it steadily. En-route through the sierra we saw several Rock Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches and Spotless Starlings but a nice surprise was 7 Redwing sat in a tree near Villadeciervos. On the main road we soon dropped out of the snow and we saw lots of Red Kites and Common Buzzards along the way. Soon enough we were entering the agricultural fields of the Villafafila area and found our first flocks of Skylarks, Linnets and Greenfinch with a few Crested Larks. From the Villafafila we headed out towards the visitor centre seeing our first of 100’s of Greylag Geese plus Lapwings and Mallard. Beyond the visitor centre we carefully checked the fields and found our target – Great Bustard so headed in their direction. Our first stop to look at them paid dividends as we also got  fantastic views of a male Hen Harrier and also a small group of Great Bustards doing their ‘foam bath’ display, where they almost turn themselves inside out!. I knew the tracks were going to be very muddy but we risked driving them to get closer to the 150+ Great Bustards that were in this immediate area. It worked well as we were able to drive towards them very slowly so wouldn’t fly and enabled David to get some much wanted video footage. It was a fantastic sight to see these huge birds flying amongst the large flocks of Greylag Geese and making them look small in comparison. As we were about to turn round and head back to the tarmac road I found a Calandra Lark stood on a stone in full view. We were able to get some very good views of this bird and a couple of others as a small flock flew around the ploughed fields. We then retraced our tracks and were soon heading back towards Villafafila and lunch at one of the local tavernas. After enjoying some huge ‘bocadillos’ of fried sausage, cheese & tomato, plus a plate of calamari & prawns in batter we headed out again to check the lagoons around the reserve. Over the next couple of hours we got fabulous views of much wildfowl including lots of Mallard, Shoveler and Coot, but with smaller numbers of Gadwall, Eurasian Teal and Shelduck. A few Curlews were a surprise and we also added Marsh Harrier, Tree Sparrow and European Starling to the list. However it was the resident Little Owl, which stole the show as it sat on one of the broken down dovecots in full view. It was now time to leave as we wanted to get back to the hotel for a welcome rest before heading out for our final evening’s watch for Iberian Wolf. As we got back it was very noticeable that the snow had almost gone, which was good news for getting to the Pistas watchpoint. So for the final evening Jane, David, Marilyn and I headed out to the local watchpoint, where we stayed until dusk. It was fairly quiet initially but things improved as the evening wore on with some more excellent sightings of several stag Red Deer and in the distance I found 5 Wild Boar. The male Peregrine Falcon put in an appearance as did a Merlin, which zipped through low over the sierra, plus Marilyn saw a small flock of Siskins. However the biggest surprise of the evening was a Spoonbill that was on migration flying fairly high across the Sierra de Culebra.


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